RUN FORM FOR TRIATHLETES
Running is arguably the simplest of the three disciplines in triathlon. To go out for a run, you just need shoes (and clothes, of course). However, running is also the greatest cause of injury among all three sports due to its high impact nature. Learning how to run well to minimize the stress on your body and finish your race strong often requires some focused work on improving your run form. Although the off-season is usually the best time of the year to address changes in run form, I have spoken to quite a few triathletes who have been struggling with the run in this first post-pandemic season.
Here are four areas to address in the following order, if you are struggling with your run this season.
The vast majority of age-group athletes have postural issues related to sitting for long periods of time, so adopting some daily and weekly practices to improve your posture will help your run tremendously. Take walk and stretch breaks while you are working. Regularly stretch and use a foam roller on your hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, and piriformis muscles. Include exercises like hip bridges, banded monster walks, and banded lateral walks in your regular strength training routine to strengthen your glutes and hips. And when you run, imagine a string that holds your body in a tall, aligned position: your head stacked above your shoulders, your upper body above your hips, and your hips above your feet when they land. When your posture breaks down on the run, everything else starts to go too.
Triathlon is about being as energy efficient as possible, so that you can finish the race strong. How tense your arms and hands are during the run has a huge impact on how much energy you have available to actually run. If you notice your arms starting to get sore during the run, then straighten your arms, unclench your hands, and shake them out. Work on keeping your hands, shoulders, and elbows relaxed and comfortable. Use a mantra like “Relax” or “Stay loose” to help you remember to hold your upper body comfortably.
Your cadence will likely vary throughout a workout and race depending on speed, gradient, and fatigue. The gold standard for cadence is 180+ steps per minute, but learning to run with a cadence that fast takes a lot of patience and focused work that is best left to the off-season. Although, if your run cadence is consistently below 160 steps per minute, then it is time to gradually increase your cadence. A slower cadence means more ground contact time and vertical oscillation which leads to a higher risk of injury. To improve your run cadence try this 30 minute workout:
• Warm up for 5 minutes, gradually moving from a walk to a run.
• Walk 1 minute, Run 4 minutes with a cadence that is 2-5 steps per minute faster than your current preferred cadence. Use a metronome or music to guide your feet and visualize your new run cadence during the walk breaks. Repeat 1 minute walk, 4 minutes run four times. (If your cadence drops below your goal cadence, take a short walk break and then start up again.)
• Cool down with 5 minutes of walking.
If it’s not broke, don’t fix it! If you are injury free, then changing your foot strike can possibly lead to injuries. Ideally you would work on changing this gradually during the off-season, but if you are dealing with an injury then consider the following:
• It’s not how your foot lands, but where it lands. Like cadence, running with a heel strike, mid-foot strike, or forefoot strike depends largely on speed, distance, cadence, gradient, running surface, etc. Instead of changing how your foot lands, work on changing where it lands in relationship to the rest of your body. The goal is to have your foot land beneath or slightly in front of your hips. You may need to shorten your stride for a while to learn this new foot landing position.
• Your foot strike will likely even change as the race progresses and fatigue sets in. When this begins to happen, take a walk break and recommit to running tall with your feet landing beneath or slightly in front of your hips.
• Don’t rush to change this. Changing your foot strike can take years, not days. Consider adjust other run form issues first.
As a race goes on, everyone’s run form starts to degrade. Working on improving your run form will not only extend the amount of time in a race you can hold onto good run form, but it will also increase your overall speed and ability to handle changes in pace and terrain. Improving as a triathlete takes time and patience, so don’t expect to make drastic improvements overnight. Consistency is the name of the game.
Good luck this season and I look forward to seeing you at the races!
Coach Jim Rowe is a Playtri Level 3 Coach, and also holds a USA Triathlon Level I Coaching Certification, a UESCA Triathlon Coaching Certification, and a TRX Coaching Certification. He is available for individual coaching, one-on-one sessions, and performance testing. He can be reached at email@example.com.